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Small actions add up

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Here is a link to a positive move by my employer to reduce one source of waste – disposable coffee cups:

Change that counts: Individual cup choices = big difference

Three cafés on the Dunedin campus going single-use disposable cup free from Monday will stop about 1,400 cups going to landfill every week – and eventually the whole University aims to be on board.

I must admit that the reusable takeaway cup I have and occasionally use (I don’t buy takeaway coffee very frequently) is made of plastic so may itself become a pollutant some day, but I do applaud the move away from single use cups. Something I’m noticing is that some of the ways my grandparents packaged and carried things are coming back into consideration as the environmental costs of our current lifestyles come under scrutiny. Glass bottles and waxed paper would be two examples.

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Does driving an electric car help decarbonize the economy?

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Here is an example of the sort of learning I mentioned in my previous post that can help me make good decisions regarding how I try to minimise my negative impact on the earth: Does driving an electric car help decarbonize the economy?

What is interesting about this is it shows that even in a country like New Zealand with 90% renewable electricity generation, the environmental cost of switching to an electric car is probably not any better than waiting until our existing petrol car reaches the end of its useful life. Using what we already have efficiently is better than switching to a newer ‘green’ substitute.

manufacturing electric cars requires more aluminum (to limit the additional weight of the batteries), more copper (for the electrical system), and more lithium and rare-earth elements than a conventional car. Producing these materials in a worldwide economy emits more greenhouse gases than the production of steel and iron for conventional cars.

Obviously if my current car dies and cannot be repaired, switching to an electric car that will transport me at least 50,000 km would make good sense. At the 50,000 km mark the electric car will tip over the line of reducing my carbon footprint.

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A dystopian future?

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I’m very worried about the growing likelihood that my own children are inheriting a dystopian future of a dying planet and disrupted societies due to the unthinking and selfish actions of big business and individual consumers alike. None of my kids have even left school yet, but they are seeing the climate change that was caused by the last century of burning fossil fuels. Rivers I used to swim in are now polluted with animal excrement and farm runoff. Even the remotest beaches in our country have plastic rubbish washing up on them. Meanwhile our minds and hearts are being manipulated and tracked by technology companies bigger than most nations. Is there any hope?

Actually, I think that’s the wrong question for me to focus on. Whether there is any real hope or not, I cannot do nothing. If all us little people took positive steps to make the world better then it would get better. I’m not naïve enough to think everyone will bother, and much of the world’s population live in such poverty that they cannot do anything to fix the environment. This means that those of us who have choices and motivation to change need to do all we can to stop the deterioration of the earth and our social structures.

I’m not setting out to change the world, what I am aiming for is to change my own thinking and lifestyle such that I have less of a negative impact on the world. This is a learning exercise – learning about the ways my seemingly ‘normal’ lifestyle is impacting the earth, learning how to reduce the bad effects of my impact, and maybe learning how to expand that beyond just me.

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Digital decluttering

The contents of my ‘To Sort’ folder tipped out on my desktop

In order to clear the way for fresh projects in 2019 I am currently in the process of cleaning up my digital clutter. I have files, photos and folders all over the place. Some is on my computer at work, some on a laptop at home, some on external drives, memory sticks, Dropbox – it’s a bit of a mess really.

Fortunately my Dropbox subscription has tonnes of space so I’m throwing everything in there and using a software tool to scan through and identify what I have multiple copies of (it works even if the file names are different). Then I have to laboriously click through each item and choose which copy to keep and which ones to delete. It is a boring job but fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there adds up over time such that in the last fortnight I have removed 18,897 surplus copies of stuff. There is still a little bit more to go but that’s the bulk of the duplicates dealt with.

My next step will be to go through the 53,740 items left and decide what to keep and what to delete. Some of that is already done as I have a few folders of ‘keepers’ where I put stuff that is valuable to me such as important documents, scans of the kids’ school reports and certificates and such like. But there is also a lot of stuff I have saved over the years that I can’t even remember what it is and a fair bit of that should probably be dumped.

I’m a bit of an information junkie, so whenever I stumble across something halfway interesting I tend to save a PDF of it. All those can add up and I will never have time to read all of it. This is where some active decision making needs to happen to choose if I will actually make use of what I’ve hoarded, in which case I need to do so. Otherwise I need to get rid of it. These days it is easy enough to find things again online so my hoarding instinct is no longer a useful strategy.

Some folks would argue that digital clutter doesn’t really matter, storage is relatively cheap and a search will find things even within a massive disordered folder. However, my personal experience is that despite only being ‘virtual stuff’, all those unread PDFs and muddled photos do cause a background stress and distraction. Seeing all that stuff every time I look for whatever I want to work on pulls my attention away from whatever I was setting out to do. This is what I’m wanting to fix.

The distraction factor applies to my digital files, the notes I have in Evernote (I’m on a mission to eliminate most of those too), ebooks, hardcopy books, paper, photos, and my phone.

With my phone I’m aggressively deleting apps and trying to keep only essentials on my home screen because it really is a distraction device if I let it be. I’m at the point with my phone that if an app remains unused for more than a few weeks it gets deleted. It is easy to download apps and each icon on that little screen just adds to the clutter.

There is a fair bit of discussion around the internet about ‘digital detox’ and I’ve given that some serious consideration but after keeping mental notes on my technology use over the last couple of months I think the amount of time I spend using technology is not a significant problem, my issue is more to do with the amount of junk I hold onto unnecessarily.

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New year update

Sea lion on the beach at Surat Bay, Catlins.

Another new year with it’s own list of goals, hopes and anxieties. I have made (and am still refining) some particular goals for this year, though I will focus on trying to put them into action rather than going on about them here. I also have a handful of anxieties, particularly with regard to my work, how the kids will fare, and finding my own sense of purpose.

There are also a few projects left over from 2018 that I’m wanting to get finished. These may end up as posts on the blog once they are done. I have a few post ideas up my sleeve and am committing myself to publishing at least one blog post a week this year. Currently I have no particular topic or theme in mind for my writing here in 2019, I’ve decided to keep this space as my personal blog that will cover the range of stuff that rattles around in my head.

My last post here was almost 3 months ago now. Since then life has mostly been the usual work and family stuff. I applied for half a dozen jobs during October and November 2018, none of which obtained the desired outcome. The break from work for three weeks was good, I had really lost momentum by the end of the year.

We had the usual busy time with two kid’s birthdays and Christmas within 10 days, a few days at Surat Bay in the Catlins and a few days in Clyde. I’m back at work now but we will have another short time away in the last week of January. Then it will be full steam into work and school for the whole family.